Skip to main content

Professor John Harrington

Professor of Law

+44 29208 74098
Law Building, Room 2.09, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX


John Harrington is Director of the ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Partnership and Professor of Global Health Law at Cardiff School of Law and Politics. He co-directs Cardiff Law and Global Justice, a research centre of Cardiff University.
























Book sections





John Harrington's research has been supported by the:

Aurelius Trust (Award for Constitution of Kenya Reform Commission Archiving Project)

Economic and Social Research Council (Seminar Series Award)

Arts and Humanities Research Council (Research Leave Fellowship)

European University Institute (Jean Monnet Fellowship)

Nuffield Foundation (Social Science Grant).

John Harrington's work can be grouped under three main themes:

  1 Towards a Rhetoric of Medical Law

This project has developed a wholly innovative account of medical law as a rhetorical practice. Though a close reading of British case law, legislative debates and academic interventions across a range of substantive topics it defends the view that argumentation in medical law is always a matter of establishing the plausibility of particular legal outcomes within concrete social and political contexts.

The analysis is built on a combination of apporaches from rhetorical and cultural theory, law and literature, critical legal studies and Marxian political economy. As such it challenges the well established view that medical law is a subset of human rights law, or of bioethics, approaches which tend to abstract the development of the discipline from broader cultural, institutional and political changes.

It argues that medical law has been marked by a set of common sense assumptions (or 'topics') about the nature of medical work and the place of doctors and the National Health Service in the economy and society of post-war Britain. It tracks the rise and decline in plausibility of these topics relating this to changes in the structure of health care delivery and broader developments in British political economy.

This work was supported by a Research Leave Fellowship of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and papers from it have already appeared in the Medical Law Review, Legal Studies , Social and Legal Studies and the International Journal of Law in Context. A monograph entitled Toward a Rhetoric of Medical Law will be published by Routledge in 2016.

  2 Global Health Law - National Contexts

This work in progress extends the critical and rhetorical methods outlined above in examining the process by which global health standards and norms are implemented, transformed and resisted in national jurisdictions, with a particular focus on East Africa.

The last decade and a half has seen a huge increase in regulatory activity in relation to health at international and regional levels. These developments are reflected in the emergence of global health law as an area of academic study. Less attention, however, has been paid to the impact of these new health-related regimes on national legal systems, and in particular on the processes by which they are received into developing country jurisdictions.

The project takes up this challenge, focussing on a number of subtanative areas of health policy reform in Kenya and drawing on extensive interviews with key policy makers, civil society groups, industry and the judiciary, as well as archival and other documentary sources, and primary legal materials.

It pays particular attention to the 'national' as ane enduring frame for debate about the legislative reform, litigation strategies, popular campaigning and lobbying work around global health issues. Early findings indicate the continued salience of 'national development' and the idiom of anti-colonial resistance in these reform processes.

Work on this project has been supported by the British Institute in Eastern Africa and papers have already appeared in the Journal of World Intellectual Property Law, Current Legal Issues and in the Routledge Handbook on Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

  3 Legal Education in Britain and Africa: Mobility and Modernity

The project examines links between legal education in newly independent African states and the rise of the Law in Context movement in Britain from the mid-1960s. It is being developed with Professor Ambreena Manji of Cardiff School of Law and Politics and builds on earlier work supported by an award from the Nuffield Trust and published in the Journal of Law and Society and African Affairs.

It follows the careers of a number of legal academics from the UK who took up their first teaching posts in newly founded African law schools in the 1960s. These young scholars returned to the UK to play a significant part in the founding of a 'radical generation' of law schools, including Warwick, Kent and Cardiff.

In teaching and scholarship they sought to breakwith the 'blackletter' doctrinal outlook associated predominantly with Oxford and Cambridge.

The project will locate the work of these scholars with reference to trends in the Anglo-American legal academy, and set their innovations, ideals and mentalities in the context of decolonization and post-war change in Britain and its African colonies.

A paper on the crisis in the Law School at the University of Ghana in the early 1960s is currently under preparation; and a developmental workshop on the project will be hosted by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London, with the support of the Legal Education Research Network in December 2015.

4 Other Work

John Harrington's work on governance and constitutionalism in Kenya is also taken up in two recent papers - both with Manji - in the Journal of Eastern African Studies (on the Presidential election petition of 2013) and Social and Legal Studies (on anti-corruption governance).

He has also edited three collections in the broader area of global health law: Global Governance of HIV/ AIDS: Intellectual Property and Access to Essential Medicines (with Aginam and Yu) and Global Health and Human Rights: Legal and Philosophical Perspectives (with Stuttaford) and a special issue of Social Science and Medicine (with Stuttaford and Hundt).


John Harrington's teaching is strongly informed by his research. He has pioneered the teaching of Global Health Law at masters level in the UK and as a Global Visting Scholar at the University of Melbourne . He designed and delivered health and human rights training as part of the collaborative PhD program in population and public health of the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA). His module on Global Health: Law and Governance is jointly taught to International Relations and Law students at masters level in Cardiff. Further teaching innovation and external teaching work is set out below.

Teaching Innovation

1 Global Justice Law Clinic

This ‘pro-bono’ programme, founded in 2015, enables Cardiff students to work with lawyers and global NGOs on securing cross-border accountability for human rights violations (eg. slum clearance in Kenya, mining industry security issues in Tanzania). One of only two such programmes in the UK it has been favourably mentioned by Baroness Hale, President of the UK Supreme Court (at the Society of Legal Scholars plenary 2017), and has resulted in myself and Professor Manji who runs it with me, being invited to address plenaries at the three main learned societies in law in the UK (ie SLS, ALT, SLSA) on innovation in legal education.

Key partners include Deighton Pierce Glynn (human rights solicitors, London and Bristol), Amnesty International (London and Nairobi), Hingorani Foundation (New Delhi), Open Society Institutes (London and New York), Legal and Human Rights Centre (Dar es Salaam) and Katiba - Constitution Institute (Nairobi), Rights and Accountability in Development (Oxford).

Students draft legal documents (eg complaints to EU Commission), conduct interviews with clients (eg in Tanzania) and prepare briefings for trial lawyers (eg UK tort and human rights case, and claim before African Court of Human and People’s Rights). Placements have been secured for students in New Delhi (eg. Indian Green Tribunal and Delhi Commission on Women’s Rights) and in Nairobi (eg International Commission of Jurists) with successful applications to Cardiff’s Global Opportunities scheme in 2017 and 2018.

2 Law and Literature: Sherman Theatre Collaboration

One of the few of its kind in UK Law Schools, engages undergraduate students in study of law as a form of performance and with representations of law in culture. Since introducing it in 2015 I have developed a partnership with the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, whereby my teaching is integrated with one of the company’s major new productions each year (ie. Love, Lies and Videotape in 2016 and The Cherry Orchard in 2017). Students do extended seminar work on the literary, legal and political issues in the drama, before attending performances and participating in post-production discussions at the Theatre with actors and directors. Follow-up classes on performance in law and on stage are then co-taught with the Sherman’s Community Theatre staff.

3 Global Problems and Legal Theory

Based on a radical overhaul of traditional Legal Theory teaching, this module introduces students to key philosophical debates (eg. the nature of law, limits to human rights, and historic justice) through concrete problems in world society (eg. transitional justice in South Africa, global intellectual property rights, and the UK’s development aid commitment). Taught in a flipped format, with classes led by student-teams this module is delivered in collaboration with the Welsh Centre for International Affairs at the Temple of Peace. As with Law and Literature, student feedback praises the innovative mode of delivery, practical experience and engaging content. This module was the only one to be mentioned expressly by Cardiff law students in the National Student Survey (2017).

External Teaching

Global Law Academy Tilburg University (2018)
Global Health Law, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (contributing new modules for on-line course) (2017)

Scholarship on Teaching

My research portfolio includes a sustained engagement with issues in legal education. In earlier papers written with Professor Ambreena Manji and published in Africanist and law journals, I have explored the moments in the history of legal education in Africa and the lessons for current work on decolonizing the curriculum. Recent work includes a history of conflicts over legal training in Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana (American Journal of Legal History) and an pleaaargues for a cosmopolitan renewal in UK legal education (UCD Working Papers series).


John Harrington is Professor of Global Health Law at Cardiff University and Director of the ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Partnership.

He holds degrees in law from Trinity College, Dublin (LL.B.) and Oxford University (BCL).

Before moving to Cardiff he held appointments as Professor of Law, University of Liverpool (2004-14), Lecturer in Law, Warwick University (1994-2004) and Lecturer in the Department of Comparative Law at the Free University of Berlin (1992-4).

He was director of Liverpool University’s Institute of Medicine Law and Bioethics (2006-10), a Global Visiting Scholar in the Faculty of Law, University of Melbourne (2006) and a Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute, Florence, Italy (2001-2). He has also held research fellowships at the Universities of Dar es Salaam and Cape Town, at the Wissenschaftszentrum fuer Sozialforschung (WZB) in Berlin and the Institute of Health, Warwick University.

More recently he was Senior Research Fellow at the British Institute in Eastern Africa and a Visiting Researcher at the African Population and Health Research Centre, both Nairobi (2010-14).

He speaks English, Irish and German (fluent), French (advanced/ B2) Italian,  Kiswahili (intermediate) and Welsh (beginner).

Honours and awards

Runner-up, Socio-Legal Theory and History Book Prize of the Social and Legal Studies Association for Towards a Rhetoric of Medical Law (2017).

Academic positions

2013-          Professor of Global Health Law, Cardiff University

2004-2013  Professor of Law, University of Liverpool

1994-2004   Lecturer in Law, University of Warwick

1192-1994   Lecturer, Department of Comparative Law, Freie Universität Berlin

Committees and reviewing

Journals and Learned Societies

Journal of Law and Society - Editorial Board: duties include advancing global south publishing initiative within the journal (from 2017).

Socio-Legal Studies Association UK - Executive Council: duties include chairing seminar competition and Open Access sub-committees; membership of article prize and equality and committee (from 2017).

Welsh Centre for International Affairs - serving on Legal Affairs Committee (from 2016).

African Studies Association UK judging committee for Audrey Richards prize, awarded biennially to the best PhD thesis (2018).

Refereeing for journals/ publishers inlcudingMedical Law Review; Modern Law Review, Legal Studies, Medical Anthropology; Health Care Analysis; British Medical Journal; Law and Humanities, Law, Culture and Humanities;  Edward Elgar, Cambridge University Press, Hart Publishing.

Funding: Reviewing Work

Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College member (from 2016)

Economic and Social Research Council Global Challenges Research Fund Peer Review College member (from 2016).

Reviewing individual applications for Medical Research Council, Leverhulme Trust and Wellcome Trust.


I welcome inquiries about supervision in all areas of my research and teaching practice. These include: global health law, health and human rights; law and literature/; legal rhetoric; law and colonialism; legal education (including clinic); philosophy of law.

My 8 current PhD students are co-supervised with at Cardiff, Bristol and Southampton. They are variously funded by Commonwealth Scholarships, ESRC 1+3 awards, AHRC Research Studentships and Vice-Chancellors Studentships (Cardiff). All are supported by the research community of Cardiff Law and Global Justice.

Their research topics include:

- Islamic tax, human rights and health care funding;
- Indigenous communities and access to health care in Kenya;
- Framing international debates in child labour;
- Doubles fiction and criminal responsibility in English law;
- Theories of global justice and asylum procedure in the UK;
- Protecting the interests of surrogates in Indian law;
- Spatial justice, participation and health care in a Nairobi settlement;
- The 'hostile environment' and the UK border.